[RPG] How does the Cortex System RPG differ from more traditional RPG rulesystems like D&D and nWoD?


We're starting to get that bug to try switching up our RPGs for a bit of variety. I've heard that a popular system, known as "Cortex", is used in several settings which our group would be enthused about, including Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. How big of a learning curve is there in this system? What are the main differences between it and d20/nWoD? What does it do better, or worse? What are the main "gotchas" that we will encounter in a transition?

Best Answer

I played the Serenity RPG a while ago, so I'll give you something that may help out. Hopefully someone who's played a bit more can give you a more comprehensive overview.

The system is your basic point-buy, skill based system more akin to Vampire than D&D (i.e. no classes). Characters have a series of general attributes (e.g. dexterity) and specific skills (e.g. firearms). These are rated by a category of die: d2, d4, d6, d8, and so on.

When you need to make a check, you roll the die corresponding to your attribute, and the die corresponding to your skill and add them together.

This does have the drawback that skill checks tend to be pretty "swingy." I believe this was mitigated somewhat by a fate point/drama die system of some kind.

For wounds, it uses a hit point system, with wound penalties as you take more damage. Hit point totals are generally pretty small (less than twenty, I think).

What stood out the most for me was how the system dealt with death and unconsciousness. Basically when you would die or be knocked unconscious you get to start making progressively harder checks to stay conscious or alive... It gives you that cinematic few moments of trying to accomplish something before the lights go out.

Also, doctors can save a mortally wounded person minutes after "death." Which is a nice change of pace from most systems, where a character bleeds out in twenty seconds or less.

Wikipedia article on the system is here: